TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues  (Feb10/13)
22 February 2010
Third World Network

Ag Chair says talks "very productive and constructive"
Published in SUNS #6865 dated 17 February 2010

Geneva, 16 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- A two-week negotiating session on agriculture, held from 1-12 February, was "very productive and constructive", according to the chair of the negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand.

Speaking to SUNS following the conclusion of the two-week session on 12 February afternoon, Ambassador Walker said that the two weeks of talks was "very productive and constructive."

He added that Members had covered a lot of ground, and that this was all ground that had to be covered. It is very important to work through all the technical details to advance on the work on templates.

He also said that it was very important to continue to undertake technical discussions, analysis and preparation of some of the outstanding modalities issues, so that when the time comes for decisions to be taken, that those decisions have a clear basis of understanding by all those involved.

As to his plans for the next negotiating session in March, the Chair told SUNS that Members will continue the work on templates, as well as his consultations on the outstanding issues in the draft modalities text.

The Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) is one of the issues that he is consulting on and the three technical papers recently circulated by the G33 will feed into this process, he added.

The agriculture negotiations at the WTO are taking place in the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture, which Ambassador Walker chairs.

According to trade officials, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Uruguay, Norway and Argentina continued to advance steadily forward the work on data and templates.

The technical questions in respect of data and templates were addressed in meetings on 1,2, 5 and 8 February.

According to trade officials, the latest refinements in respect of domestic support

data include a demonstration of how actual data related to domestic support could

be inserted into electronic spreadsheets, which would be set up to automatically make further calculations.

The data relate to Amber Box supports ("total AMS"), Blue Box supports, and values of production, which are going to be used to calculate new maximum levels for some types of support, said trade officials.

The US illustrated how this would work by utilizing data supplied by two developed countries (Australia and Norway) and one developing country (Uruguay).

According to trade officials, these included current Amber Box ceilings (or "final total bound AMS"), which would be the starting point for cuts resulting from the Doha Round, actual Amber Box and Blue Box support as notified over a period of relevant years, and values of production. The spreadsheet files then automatically calculated some additional numbers such as averages over the relevant base periods.

The demonstration, which took place on 8 February, followed from a presentation made a week earlier on what base data are needed more generally in the three pillars, based on a paper from Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay.

According to trade officials, this began from the elements to be scheduled after modalities have been agreed: export subsidies, overall trade-distorting domestic support, final base total AMS, tariffs, quotas, etc. It then worked back to examine which data needed to be compiled and presented, and which paragraphs of the December 2008 draft modalities text refer to these.

Trade officials said that the presentation however did not address the question of whether new tariff quotas can be created. Nevertheless, those opposing the creation of new tariff quotas looked at what data would be needed if new quotas are created.

A few Members made comments or posed questions, some of which related to whether developing countries will need to provide data in instances where they are not undertaking commitments, or whether all Members will have to supply the data (regardless of whether they are undertaking commitments or not).

On 2 February, Australia presented a draft Doha Round schedule on export subsidy commitments. The document only contained column headings.

According to trade officials, also on 2 February, the Secretariat conducted a presentation on converting the 1996 version of the harmonized system (in relation to product code numbers under the World Customs Organization's system) to the 2002 version.

With regards to agricultural products, 603 sub-headings (i.e., products defined at the six-digit level) remain unchanged. Another 75 sub-headings of the 1996 version have been redefined (split or combined) as 90 sub-headings in the 2002 version.

According to trade officials, 38 Members have completed the conversion, i.e., have "certified HS02 schedules", while another 79 Members have files sent to the rest of the Membership for review, five Members are still reviewing their own files and three have not finished preparing their files.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Walker has continued his consultations among smaller groups of Members on the substance of the agriculture negotiations. According to trade officials, the Chair informed an open-ended informal meeting on 12 February that he had seen signs of progress but that more work is still needed in all areas.

He highlighted several issues that were the subjects of his consultations.

One of these issues is the SSM, where the Chair said that new papers from the G33 have formed part of the technical input into the consultations.

Another issue highlighted by the Chair was the issue of tariff simplification.

According to trade officials, at the informal meeting on Friday, Argentina, in respect of the issue of tariff simplification, reiterated that it could not accept either of the methods proposed in the draft modalities text of December 2008 because they would both lead to increased protection. It however expressed willingness to discuss converting complex duties to simpler versions.

Other issues listed by the Chair include tariff quota creation and tropical products and preferences.

On the later issue, Ambassador Walker said that the consultations focused on a draft text provided by a group of countries.

According to trade officials, Argentina asked whether the discussion would be "multilateralised" (involving the full Membership).

Brazil called for consultations to be undertaken on cotton.

The Chair said that he hopes to organize this along with other remaining issues.

The next two-week session is scheduled to take place early March.